What Keeps Us Alive

An anonymous story as told to Jacqueline Hanoman

When thinking about resource insecurity, I used to think about Maslow’s hierarchy—food, shelter, clothing, water, all of that. Obviously, these are important, and now I realize that through relationships, love, connection—that out of these secure attachments with others—these needs will be met. I think about the little children I have seen who are fed, who are clothed, but who weren’t hugged, who weren’t touched, and I see the blankness in their eyes. They would die because they lacked these essential physical needs.

I grew up seeing more emotional resource insecurity than basic needs insecurity. Life turned upside down when I finished high school. My parents got divorced and they left the church where they pastored. They were both pastors and their divorce led to emotional distress within the congregation.

There is a quote from Anne Lamott which I can’t remember exactly, but it’s something along the lines of: “If you haven’t known that there is some darkness in this world, or there is difficulty, pain, suffering by the time you are 18, you aren’t human.” And I always think that I witnessed pain for others, but the pain for me happened when I turned 18.

My parents were best at loving us, but not in their marriage. They worked beautifully together, but my parents didn’t hug, nor were they affectionate as a couple. Today my parents have a lot of respect for and are kind to each other, but they are not friends from my perspective. My dad has a mental illness, and when I was a teen he kept going off the rails, and my mom gave him an ultimatum to work on their marriage. The ultimatum was asking my dad to either go to therapy together, to work on their marriage, and if he didn’t put the work in, she would leave him. Instead of working on the marriage, my dad pulled further away from my mom, and really from our whole family.

I had amazing friends, and they were the ones who showed up when my parents got divorced, not the adults. My friend group showed up for me when I was 18, when my parents separated. My parents told me I couldn’t tell anybody, because of being pastors. They were going to therapy to work on their marriage and the therapist told them that I needed to tell someone, so I told my best friend. She was there for me when my dad was bizarre and acting off. She saw all of this and told me, “I’m so sorry, this is Crazy town, but it will be ok. We will be ok.”

That’s probably why I see resource insecurity as ultimately when you don’t have people, because for me, the pain and the trauma around that was the people that were silent and never talked to me; people who had loved me my whole life. I mean my youth pastor, my children’s pastor, none of them came to me and said anything. We had a youth group of about three-hundred. I led worship every Sunday. Nobody came to me and asked me how I was doing, except for my friends.

So, I think about resources as people. Sometimes just a smile, a kind greeting. That is so important for me; how we greet people. When you walk into a space and you see how the space is, how people greet you.

I like to be present when things happen. Just to show up for people and not be freaked out by emotions. My parents, even in their brokenness, just showed up for people. It was always modeled for me. Even in our dysfunction, we showed up for people.

When I could have been hungry, when I could have been unhoused, I had family who supported us. I am aware of my privilege. I try to live my life as someone who listens to the people in my life. When I think about resource insecurity, I think sometimes it’s the person not having another person. Each person can identify what that is for them, but I think anytime someone is resource insecure, for me its basic form is when they don’t have the thing they need to be at least somewhat stable, whether it is feeling stable, or having what they need to do the next thing in their life. That’s kind of what I see it as. Insecurity. Being able to make choices, being able to focus. I think our brains, our bodies can’t work as effectively as they could if they don’t have the people, the food, the housing, the clothing that they feel they need to be themselves.

 Thinking again about the children who would die from not having those emotional attachments     I think whatever that power is, I think it is a physiological need that we all have. There is something that happens to us when we look at each other in the eye but being culturally sensitive, that may not be the thing. When we see each other, whatever that looks like, and we are present for each other, whether that’s through touch, whether that’s through a listening ear, whether that’s through saying “What do you need?” and the person saying “I need you to be here.”

I do think that being accurate when empathizing with someone so they feel most at ease, especially when facing something challenging, is powerful. Even in the good, if there is no one to celebrate you getting a job, or you having a child, or getting a degree, to be there for you when you move to a new place, that also can cause, what is that called, detachment, it can also cause trauma, if somebody is not there in the good things, now that I think more about it. That example of the babies, that is an extreme example, but yeah, we know babies need that physical touch, we know that skin to skin, how powerful that can be. And I know, I experienced that firsthand. I didn’t do that with my first child. It wasn’t even brought up at that time by doctors, lactation consultants, or nurses. But I did it with my second, and it was pretty amazing. Each child is different, each person is different, so my first child might have resisted it, I don’t know. But with my second, we were securely attached, nobody could come between us, because she needed me for that time in her life.

 Even in extreme cases, I think emotional attachments keep people alive longer. I think of the earthquake that happened recently in Turkey and Syria. It was a terrible earthquake where buildings collapsed and I heard an interview with a woman, and it was conducted when she was in her rawest state, and there was still no relief. Yet she had hope that help was coming, that other nations would come to help, that the U.S. would help, that nations nearby would help. And you could hear the terrible trauma in her voice, that they had to leave people, leave their loved ones in this collapsed building to get to safety. And yet I know from the way she was talking that she was with some people too, and they could make the choice together. That was just the worst choice you could make and she was crying, and at the end she still had something to say. She thanked those who were helping and she pleaded for people to come to their aid. And because some of the things I know of how trauma works, is that if someone can still ask something of somebody, all the negative stuff of trauma hasn’t set in yet. There is still the belief that somebody will show up. I think that thinking and believing that somebody will show up, believing “we can get through this,” keeps people alive longer.

People keep us alive. Relationships keep us alive. Secure attachments. We need each other to stay alive.

This story originally appeared in Facing Resource Insecurity, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Second Harvest Food Bank of East-Central Indiana.

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